For many years the famous Crystal Palace dinner theater in Aspen featured a cabaret song that every audience loved: “The Peanut Butter Affair.” It told the story of a CEO who had gone to work one day, without properly washing his face, and still had a lump of peanut butter on his chin. But none of his employees dared to tell him.
When he got home, though, his wife told him it was there and he was appalled. But he was even more appalled when he showed up for work over the next few days and eventually “every jerk from the chairman to the clerk had a lump of peanut butter on his chin.”
That spoof of underlings who witlessly mimic their bosses came to mind as I listened to Trump aides and allies justifying the president’s Saturday morning Twitter rant alleging — without any evidence — that President Barack Obama ordered Trump Tower phones be tapped during the 2016 campaign. It seemed like the whole Trump team was putting peanut butter on their chins. The only question was who had the biggest lump.
My vote goes to deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who told ABC’s “This Week” that Trump “is going off of information that he’s seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential.” Unspecified information that he’s seen? UFOs that he’s seen? How is that a standard for accusing his predecessor of a vile crime? Give that woman a four-year supply of Peter Pan.
But Sanders is just a flack. More troubling was watching an honorable soldier, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, dab on some Skippy and defend Trump’s claim on CNN, saying that “the president must have his reasons.”
Then why doesn’t the secretary of homeland security know them and why doesn’t the president share them? And, by the way, why are you on television with peanut butter on your chin, saying the president has reasons but not saying what they are? That’s how a morally bankrupt president soils everyone around him, even such a good man.
Trump ran for office promising to protect Americans from terrorists, immigrants and free trade agreements. But who will protect us from him? If our president is willing to casually throw under a bus our most elemental principles of presidential conduct — such as, you don’t accuse your predecessor of a high crime without evidence, just to divert attention away from your latest mess — we have a real problem.
We have so many big, hard things we need to do, but big hard things can only be done together. And that takes a leader who can bring us together to do things worthy of our energies and dedication — like proper health care reform, immigration reform, tax reform and infrastructure investment, or properly working with China and Russia where we can and drawing red lines where we must.
But it also requires trust in the integrity of that leader — that when things get tough, the leader won’t bail and shoot his aides and followers in the back. There is not a GOP congressman or U.S. ally abroad who today is not asking: Can I trust this guy when the going gets tough, or will Trump lay a fact-free Twitter rant on me? Can I even trust sharing information with him?
Government moves “at the speed of trust,” observes Stephen M.R. Covey in his book “The Speed of Trust.” “There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy, and civilization throughout the world — one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love. … That one thing is trust.”
Despite a bizarre number of meetings with Russians, no proof has surfaced that Trump’s team colluded with Russia. What our top three intelligence services have declared, though, is that Russia did hack our election on Trump’s behalf.
And as more of our lives move to cyberspace, understanding exactly how that was done, how it is probably being done in European elections right now and how to deter this new weapon from undermining the West, which is Russia’s goal, is a vital security issue. Without an electoral process we can trust, we’re sunk.
Sadly, most of the Republican Party today is morally AWOL, preferring to sweep the Russian hacking under the carpet rather than have a credible, independent investigation. That will lead people to question any collaboration Trump tries with Moscow.
Moreover, one day soon something will happen — in North Korea, the South China Sea, Ukraine, Iran — that will require him to make a judgment call. Trump will have to look the American people in the eye and say: “Trust me — I decided this based on the best information and advice of the intelligence community.” Or, “Trust me, we needed to work with Russia on this.”
And who will believe him? There is nothing more dangerous than a U.S. president who’s squandered his trust before he has to lead us through a crisis. But that’s what happens when he’s surrounded by people ready to slather peanut butter on their chins. It greases the decline of companies and countries.
Or as the “Peanut Butter” song warns, “Strange to think what a guy can do just because everybody thinks he’s right.”
Thomas Friedman writes for The New York Times.